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Sep 4, 2013 8:42 PM by Eric Ross

NM judge upholds county's gay marriage ruling

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) - A northern New Mexico county has become the eighth in the state to allow marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The Los Alamos County clerk's office issued a license Wednesday to a lesbian couple shortly after a state district judge upheld a decision requiring that to happen.

Janet Newton and Maria Thibodeau were denied a marriage license last week and they filed a lawsuit that led to a ruling by District Court Judge Sheri Raphaelson that same-sex couples are entitled to be married in New Mexico.

Dona Ana County's clerk led the way on the gay marriage issue Aug. 21 by deciding independently to allow marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples. Other counties have followed, including Grant County, which plans to start granting licenses next week.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

A northern New Mexico county became the eighth in the state on Wednesday to clear the way for same-sex couples to be married.

The Los Alamos County clerk's office issued a marriage license to a lesbian couple shortly after a state district judge upheld a decision requiring that to happen.

Janet Newton and Maria Thibodeau were denied a license last week and filed a lawsuit that led to a ruling by District Court Judge Sheri Raphaelson that same-sex couples are entitled to be married in New Mexico.

Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover went to court Wednesday to defend her decision to deny the couple a license, but the judge ruled against the clerk.

"Anytime two people get to exercise their freedom for their first time, that's important. That's what is important to our clients," Brian Egolf, a Democratic state legislator and Santa Fe lawyer for the couple, said after the court hearing.

The courts have become a battleground over gay marriage in New Mexico because the Democratic-controlled Legislature hasn't resolved the issue. A proposal by Egolf for a constitutional amendment to legalize gay marriage failed in this year's legislative session. Lawmakers previously have turned down measures to allow domestic partnerships for same-sex couples and to ban gay marriage.

State law doesn't explicitly prohibit or authorize gay marriage. State statutes contain references to "husband" and "wife," and include a marriage license application that has sections for male and female applicants. Stover, a Republican, has said she relied on those provisions in denying a marriage license to the lesbian couple.

Stover said after the court hearing that no decision has been made on whether to appeal Raphaelson's decision, which could provide a way for the gay marriage dispute to be resolved by the state's highest court. Rulings by district judges do not apply statewide unlike a decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Before Wednesday's decision, six of the state's 33 counties were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and a seventh had announced plans to start granting licenses next week.

The clerk in Dona Ana County, the state's second most populous, led the way on Aug. 21 by acting independently - without a court order - to begin handing out marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Since then, a series of lawsuits have been filed by gay rights advocates and two county clerks decided on their own to allow same-sex couples to be married. A group of Republican lawmakers have gone to court to try to stop the Dona Ana County clerk from continuing to grant licenses.

In hopes of getting a uniform statewide ruling on gay marriage from the Supreme Court, an association representing county clerks statewide - Democrats and Republicans - plans to appeal an Albuquerque judge's ruling last week that said it was unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

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